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THE MEANING OF THE WINTER'S TALE F. DAVID HOENIGER It is required You do awake your faith. That she is living, Were it but told you, should be hooted at Like an old tale; but it appears she lives. ... THE Winter's Tale has been curiously neglected in Shakespearean criticism. Scholarly articles on this play are scarce, and in general works on Shakespeare it is seldom given serious treatment. The only major studies on The Winter's Tale in recent years are those by Wilson Knight and S. L. Bethell; and these have, in my opinion, not solved the essential problem, though Mr. Knight has thrown some significant light on it. The purpose of the present article is to stimulate greater interest in the play by attempting a revaluation based on a new and revolutionary interpretation of its meaning. But it is especially at variance with the still prevailing view first formulated by Lytton Strachey: that towards the end of his life Shakespeare was getting weary and satisfied himself with writing idyllic but unprofound poetic drama. H. B. Charlton calls the romances "the products of an old man," and even E. K. Chambers and Dover Wilson have encouraged a similar attitude. Yet is it at all convincing that a man of the creative energy of Shakespeare should, when he had only reached his late forties, develop signs of senility and soothe himself "after the tempest of Timon and King Lear with the fairytales of youth"? In this paper, first the general thesis will be put forth that only if we approach The Winter's Tale as an allegory can we do justice to its greatness. Then will follow an outline of what I understand to be its meaning and significance. I The most serious cntlclsm levelled against the allegorical interpretation of Shakespearean drama is that it too often tends to draw the attention away from the humanity reflected in the poetry and surface meaning, from "the gracious and distinguished personality of its author whieh is the only real thing that can be absorbed by the culture and civilization of his people.'" This contention must be lG. Wilson Knight. The Crown 0/ Life (London and New York, 1947); S. L. Bethell, The Winters Tale (London, 1948), 128. 2Eckermann, Gesprache mit Goethe, March 28, 1927. 11 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, vol. XX, no. I, Oct., 1950 12 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY faced squarely. The object of good critical analysis is to focus more clearly the core of the work of art under consideration, and if this object is lost sight of in an allegorical interpretation, not the most copious display of erudition on the part of its author can serve as an excuse. In the case of The Winter's Tale, the allegorical approach can be justified, I think, on several grounds. First, it has become more and more apparent that those critics who confine their attention to the surface meaning of Shakespeare's final plays have not done thcm justice, indeed havc tended to belittle their greatness. The literal meaning of The Winter's T ale by itself offers no sufficiently satisfactory explanation for the profound impact which this play makes upon the sensitive reader or spectator, an experience which only a great and unified work of art can call forth. This is not to say, of course, that the surface meaning of The Winter's T ale generally creates little enjoyment or has little subtlety. Much of it is stamped with Shakespeare's magnificence. Several of the scenes, especially that of the trial, are beautifully organized and filled with exciting action. The dramatic study of Leontes' jealousy, or rather maniac obsession, is powerful, convincing even if expressionistic , and psychologically profound, especially in the scenes when he is defending repeatedly and ironically his non-tyrannical attitude just after having rejected roughly the counsel of his best friends and. advisers. Like Othello, Leontes is fundamentally a good man, but unlike Othello, as Coleridge has pointed out in a brilliant passage, his jealousy, a vice of his own mind, has certain well-defined effects and concomitants.' The portrayal of the love feelings is unmatched in beauty as well as in understanding...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 11-26
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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